As Tom, Mike, Dave and Pat Pavlansky enter a downtown Youngstown building, they are greeted by someone who recognizes them.
Bart Felger works at the building, where the four brothers – each a local high school sports coach – are about to participate in a media interview. Felger played football at Poland Seminary High School for their father, the late Dave Pavlansky, who died of cancer in 1978 at age 41. The football field at Poland High’s stadium is named in honor of the senior Pavlansky.
Felger enthralled Pat, Mike and the younger Dave with tales of their father’s football team. Tom, the youngest of the four, listened most intently.
Tom was two weeks shy of his 10th birthday when his father died and always wondered about his impact on the Poland community. He wants his wife, Kate, and children, Annie, Stephen, Maggie and Tommy, to know more about her father-in-law and their grandfather.
Like their father, the Pavlansky brothers have left an impression on many young athletes in the Mahoning Valley. They reflected on their careers during a visit to The Business Journal.
Tom, a fixture for 22 years at Lakeview High School as the head football coach, always told his players to value each moment. The 1987 Poland Seminary High School graduate accepted the head coaching job at his alma mater in February.
“I don’t want to go back 10 years from now and say, ‘You know I could have done this,’ ” Tom says. “It’s all about family.”
Tom, Mike, Dave and Pat are longtime coaches in this area, following a similar path their father trod as biology teacher and football mentor from the late 1960s through most of the 1970s.
Mike, a 1981 Poland graduate, is the head football coach at Canfield High School and teaches social studies. He was a graduate football assistant at Kansas University in 1985 for Mike Gottfried. Mike coached football for four years at Lisbon David Anderson High School and six at Mentor High School – spending the final two years at each stop as head coach – before landing at Canfield.
Dave, a 1978 Poland graduate, retired as the Boardman High School boys track and field and cross country coach almost a decade ago. He teaches English at Boardman and is the U.S. Track and Field regional coordinator for coaching education in the Midwest and upper East Coast.
Dave coached high school football in Florida in the 1980s, facing eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders as a defensive coordinator. Dave also was a graduate assistant at Miami of Ohio and on Jim Tressel’s first football staff in the late ’80s at Youngstown State University before coming to Boardman.
Pat, a 1982 Poland graduate, is the head boys and girls tennis coach and chemistry teacher at Canfield High School. He retired as the Canfield varsity girls head coach in 2014, but is now an assistant. He coached basketball at Ursuline, Canfield and Lakeview high schools.
Pat knows he is the exception in his football family.
“We were football, football, football – dropped on his head – basketball,” Dave says.
“Many times,” Pat laughs.
In the fall of 1987, Mike drove to Columbus and picked up Tom from The Ohio State University. Mike was coaching and teaching social studies, while Tom struggled in school – pondering if he should become a math teacher. Tom decided social studies would be more conducive to his future employment.
“I’m a first-year social studies teacher. So I’m looking for a pat on the back,” Mike says. “I said, ‘What made you get into social studies?’ He said, ‘You did it. Anybody can do it.’ He went to sleep, and I drove home in silence.”
Teaching and coaching are important to the Pavlanskys. But family always comes first.
Their mother, Bernice, is in her 80s and organized Easter dinner amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the family would have 25 to 40 people gather for the occasion, Pat says.
Organization was embedded in the brothers and their sisters. Their mother was a school nurse when his father succumbed to cancer and she had to go back to school to get a master’s degree in guidance counseling. She logged 18-hour days with no excuses, expecting her six children (including daughters Mary Sue and Beth Anne)to tend to household chores.
That attention to detail is important for first-year head coaches.
Dave says there should be a checklist. See where mistakes might get made and short-circuit them. Know all
the details and execute them. Be confident because that exudes professionalism.
“I’ve always functioned best from a little bit of fear,” Dave says.
Mike learned to balance family and coaching early on at Canfield. He brought his players in at 7:15 a.m. to watch game film before school. He put his children in bed Sunday night and wouldn’t get home Monday night until after his kids were asleep. Leaving early Tuesday, his children would not see him until Tuesday night – almost two days later. An assistant eventually handled film duties so Mike could stay home Tuesday morning to greet his children.
“You put that No. 1 and then everything else will fall into place,” Mike says.
It is all about maintaining perspective, he says. His father explained to Mike – while in the midst of his two-year battle with cancer – that somewhere in the world, somebody had it rougher than their family. That reassured Mike that despite the personal chaos, things would be fine.
It’s a life lesson Mike and his brothers hold dearly as they tackle life’s challenges.
“Forget about the situation you’re in,” Mike says. “Adapt to it but do what you’re supposed to do.”
Tom had the experience of coaching his own children. The last four years on the Lakeview football team, he and his son, Stephen, cultivated their father-son relationship. Stephen has been nominated for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I’m proud of how he’s evolved,” Tom says.
Annie, who now plays women’s basketball at Kent State University, was a standout when she played sixth-grade basketball for her father. Tom was a stickler at the time for letting the first five play the first three minutes of a quarter and letting the next five finish the quarter.
He recalls one tournament where his team was down by 12 points at halftime. Annie had only played three minutes at that point.
“Two parents cornered me and basically said, ‘Take the reins off and let her play,’” Tom says.
Coming to Lakeview was the right decision for Tom.
He spent four years at Ohio State as a football student manager and went with former OSU coach Earle Bruce to Colorado State University as a graduate assistant coach. Another former Buckeyes coach, Urban Meyer, was on staff.
Pat wanted to lure Tom away with a teaching and basketball coaching job at Lakeview. Pat coached boys basketball at Lakeview from 1992-95, but Tom later coached football – eventually becoming the Bulldogs head football coach.
Before taking the job, Tom wanted to know Lakeview’s team colors and team name. The colors are blue and white and the name is the Bulldogs – both the same as Poland.
“If it was anything else, I probably would not have done it,” Tom says.
Pictured: Brothers Tom, Mike, Dave and Pat Pavlansky all coach high school athletics. Like their father, they have left an impression on many young athletes.